We get to the bottom of some of the game’s trickiest concepts
What’s the first thing you should look for?
At the outset you need to observe the size of the stacks because you want to see if there’s an amount of money worth winning. Look out for the small stacks as well as the big stacks and only play premium hands against the shorties. Don’t let them consistently steal blinds but try to avoid getting involved unless you have a big hand. I won’t gamble with them – you just don’t need to.
The second thing I do if I’m playing online is to look up the history I have of players on Poker Tracker or the site’s leaderboard. If they’re one of the top players, what’s the point in playing them? It’s better to sit at another table, otherwise you’re automatically losing some of your edge. No edge, no game! And remember that you don’t have to play that day, there’s always another session or another table – especially online.
How does your table image affect how others play?
There are a lot of players who are complete rocks, which means you know they’ll only be playing strong starting hands. I’ve found the best approach is to give the appearance that you’re there to gamble. If you win a hand and turn over 9-6 they’ll think, ‘Oh my god, he’s playing anything.’
The pre-flop money I give away is of no consequence to me. I’m looking to make a hand. If I connect and win with it they’ll have you pegged as a loose idiot and want to play pots when you have a monster. Being seen as an action player will also get you invited to games – often soft – that you wouldn’t if you only play five percent of your hands.
How do you combat aggressive players?
Keep raising them. To stop aggressive players consistently betting into me I’ll run two or three check-raises against them in quick succession. It actually doesn’t matter if you lose a hand or two because what you’ve done is now clear in their mind. Your check can no longer be seen as an automatic sign of weakness and you’ll find that they’ll check with you more often.
See a lot of flops with them, because if they’re loose and aggressive you’ll keep them on edge and will take a lot of their chips when they make a mistake. There’s no point giving them 20 antes and only playing back at them when you get a big hand, because they’ll pass. You need to play against them but keep the pot small pre-flop.
What’s the most profitable way to play at low stakes cash tables?
If you’re playing in a nine-handed ring game you need to play premium hands in position. Play strong ABC poker and, as you progress, start playing short-handed poker. You’ll find that you’ll get a lot more action with a lot more bluffing involved. When playing at a full table you’ll find that a raise can easily get four or five callers, in which case you really need to have hit a hand because you’re definitely going to get more action.
What physical tells are dead giveaways to monster hands?
Look out for people who stop talking mid-sentence. If they’re chatting away to someone else but look at their cards and suddenly stop talking they’ve got a huge hand. It’s just incredible. You try to keep talking naturally after looking down at Aces – it’s impossible! The other one to look out for is when players turn their iPods off. The second you see someone look at their hand and turn their music off you can pretty much guarantee they like what they see.
What’s the most important thing to know about bluffing?
It’s essential to learn which players can be bluffed. You have to make sure that a player is good enough to understand why they should be laying down, because you can’t assume that they’ll drop their weak top pair to a re-raise. I’ve seen someone get it all-in with J-9 against A-K and say, ‘It’s a race.’ Being just 35% to win is not my idea of a race! You then mark them down as a player not to bluff.
What should you think about when bluffing on the river?
When you can spot someone value betting [and you’re certain they don’t have the nuts] it’s a good opportunity to move up a level by re-raising them. Say you’ve raised pre-flop, got one caller and an Ace is dealt on the flop. You check, they check. Another rag card is dealt and you both check. The last card is a Queen. You check, he bets and, chances are, he’s just hit a Queen or thinks whatever pair he has is good enough.
If the pot is $300 and he bets $120 there’s very little that he can call you with if you re-raise him the pot. Ask yourself, what could he have been slow-playing in that situation? He thinks he’s making a value bet after spiking a Queen. Use that to your advantage with hands that you think you would have lost with if it had been checked down. You need to have big gonads but this move can be very profitable.